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Leadership Qualities

In contemporary society, respect for our leaders is almost extinct. We’ve become cynical to the extreme – feeling that our leaders frequently talk out of both sides of their mouths, saying not what they believe but what they think you want them to say, and following the polls rather than their morals and beliefs.

It is, therefore, very educational, reassuring, and refreshing to see in the beginning of Sefer Shmos the development and leadership qualities of Moshe Rabbeinu, one of the greatest leaders of all time. From these lessons, we can hopefully absorb what to aspire to and how to train our children.

When Moshe Rabbeinu first met up with Hashem by the burning bush, the verse tells us that Moshe said, “Let me turn now and investigate this amazing sight.” Rav Avigdor Miller, Zt”l, Zy”a, points out that if Moshe Rabbeinu did not have an eagerness and desire to learn – as manifested by his turning and investigating, and he would have instead gone on his own way, he would have missed out totally on the revelation. Thus, we see a first step in greatness is the trait of always yearning to learn more.

As a young man, raised with royal treatment in Paroh’s palace by the Princess Bisya, Moshe Rabbeinu did not allow himself to relax in splendor. Rather, he went out to his suffering brethren and shared in their fate. This is the great quality that we find in all of our leaders; namely, “Nosei b’ol im chaveiro — Sharing in another’s suffering.” Thus, Rebbetzin Kotler, Zt”l, did not put sugar in her coffee or tea all the years of the holocaust. And too, right now, many American Jews are praying feverishly, sharing in the plight of our brethren in Eretz Yisroel.

When Moshe Rabbeinu saw an injustice being committed against one of his brethren, he didn’t consider his security or his comfort, but rather acted with alacrity in the defense of his own. Then, upon seeing the misbehavior of some of his brethren, he did not concern himself with the repercussions, but immediately chastised them properly. How many lessons can leaders learn from the study of Moshe Rabbeinu, even in his youth!

Of course, another stunning attribute of Moshe Rabbeinu was his unparalleled humility. His was not a leadership motivated by the need for accolades or fanfare. His captaincy was not fueled by a desire for power or adoration. For seven days and seven nights, he valiantly attempted to turn down Hashem’s offer of rulership of His people. This speaks volumes for the correct motivation for our aspiring young leaders.

Then, we watch in awe on how Hashem trained Moshe Rabbeinu to pray for his archenemies, Paroh and Mitzrayim. Moshe repeatedly did this to remove the successive plagues from Egypt. I believe this was to train Moshe Rabbeinu in the important leadership quality of being able to pray for, and help even, his antagonists. Thus, in the desert, Moshe Rabbeinu was able to care lovingly for a nation about which he himself would testify, “Od me’at u’skaluni — A little bit more and they would stone me.” In a similar vein, we find that Mordechai, although he was only, “Ratzui l’rov echav — Favored by some of the people,” he was, “Doveir shalom l’chol daro — Sought peace for all of the people.” This is a tough test of leadership – to be able to care for, and help, even the malcontents and the antagonists.

Moshe Rabbeinu’s willingness to sacrifice personal ambition for the benefit of the Klal is yet another extraordinary example of his greatness as a leader. Upon coming down from Har Sinai, he reached the zenith of his dreams, bringing down G-d’s Torah to his people. Yet, he willingly sacrificed and smashed it in order that the perpetrators of the golden calf should be spared from defying the written words that he held in his hand. So too, with awesome courage he declared, ”If you do not forgive them Hashem, “Macheini na mi’sifricha — Blot me out from your Torah.”

We all know the famous Medrash that when Moshe was a shepherd, a lone sheep wandered far from the flock. Upon finding it, Moshe Rabbeinu saw that it was ill and carried it back upon his shoulders. Hashem commented, “You displayed such compassion to one of your flock, I desire you to lead My flock.” Thus we see that mercy, compassion, kindness, and care are necessary components of true Jewish leadership.

Let’s not fall into the trap of being cynical about our own leaders. It is very natural that when someone criticizes us, we react by taking him or her down a peg or two. It is much easier to tear them down and negate their words than to consider that we might be wrong – and need improvement. This is one of the most frequent reasons why people disparage their own Rabbi’s, while still manifesting great respect for other Rabbonim. It is not only because they grow weary and used to their own Rav over the years. It is also because the other Rabbonim have not repeatedly chastised them personally.

Furthermore, let us not succumb to the easy habit of always suspecting our own Rabbis and Roshei Yeshiva of doing things for the sake of kavod. Let us rather consider that by elevating the stature of our leaders, we are ensuring that our children will look up to them, be more likely to listen to them, and have a greater desire to be like them. In short, let’s aspire to the reward of the Talmud, “One who honors Rabbonim will have children who are Talmidei Chachomim.”

As we learn Sefer Shmos and learn about Geulas Mitzrayim, may we all merit the final redemption speedily in our days.